If you leave Adelaide and head east, within 20 minutes you are in the heart of one of Australia's most beautiful wine regions, Adelaide Hills. The wines from Adelaide Hills are shaped by the coolness of the region’s altitude, its changing seasons and the skill and passion of its winemakers.
Adelaide Hills: distinctly cool
The cooler climate defines the Adelaide Hills and provides them with a distinctive point of difference to other South Australian regions that has allowed it to spearhead the evolution of Australian wine in recent years. Its winemaking evolution continues to this day, and it is now a hotbed of creativity; home to a number of bold, boundary-pushing grape growers and winemakers.
Adelaide Hills – the beginnings
Vines were planted in the Adelaide Hills as far back as the 1870s. Unfortunately, due to the challenges of cool climate viticulture, most of these had been grubbed up by the 1930s. The rebirth of the area as a wine region began with winemaker Brian Croser and his family planting Chardonnay in the Tiers Vineyard in 1979. Brian had identified the potential of the region as one of the best places in Australia to plant cool climate loving varieties. He was soon joined by other Australian wine pioneers including Stephen George at Ashton Hills, Geoff Weaver in Lenswood and Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw at Shaw and Smith. Today there are around 100 producers in Adelaide Hills who have planted over 4,000 hectares of vines between them.
The cool but diverse climate of the Adelaide Hills
Just as the twisting and turning, rising and falling roads of the Adelaide Hills offer a stunning range of vistas with bewildering frequency, so these same hills and valleys offer a dizzying variety of altitudes and aspects. This gives rise to a hugely diverse range of mesoclimates that make generalisations on terroir in the area difficult and vine growing fascinating.
Most of the region, which stretches from the Barossa and Eden Valley boundaries to the north and the McLaren Vale boundary to the south, has an unequivocally cool climate. Rainfall, however, varies throughout the region, increasing at higher elevations and mainly falling in winter and spring.
Adelaide Hills’ vines: quality and diversity
Adelaide Hills is home to a number of noble grapes varieties that are especially suited to the region’s climate. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were planted in the early stages of Adelaide Hills’ modern history and produce everything from exceptional varietals to sparkling wines.
Adelaide Hills has also developed a reputation for being the benchmark region for Australian Sauvignon Blanc. The style is lively and aromatic with distinct grapefruit and tropical notes and crisp acidity. West-facing slopes in the northern areas of the region are warm enough to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon and several producers have had great success with cool climate expressions of Shiraz from around towns like Balhannah and Macclesfield. That said, much of the region is best suited to early ripening varieties.
Traditional Australian classic varieties have been joined in recent years by a range of promising and exciting emerging varieties. White wines from Arneis, Grüner Veltliner and Fiano to red wines from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Montepulciano are helping to further evolve the Adelaide Hills’ fine wine story.
From evolution to revolution
In the late 1990s and early 2000s it was intense, concentrated and heavily oaked examples of Shiraz, Grenache and red wine blends that dominated the Australian fine wine story. For some in Australia, several of whom cut their winemaking teeth during this time, there has been a strong desire to rebel against the status quo of that time. Many of these winemakers are classically trained but know the rules well enough to know how to break them. While this quiet Australian wine revolution is taking place across the industry, the greatest concentration of rebellious activity has emanated from the Adelaide Hills.
‘One of the most obvious concentrations of Young Turkism is in the hills to the east of Adelaide, where temperatures are markedly cooler than in the more established Barossa Valley further north. The combination of an unfamiliar winery name and Adelaide Hills may provide a shortcut to a cutting-edge Australian wine
The Basket Range area of the Adelaide Hills is, according to leading Sydney sommelier Tai Tate, home to some of the 'most exciting, prolific, eccentric and boundary-pushing winemakers in Australia.' Winemakers like Anton Von Kloppers, Taras and Amber Ochota at Ochota Barrels, Brendon Keys at BK Wines and Gareth Belton at Gentle Folk are changing perceptions of Australian wine around the world with their delicious and thoughtful expressions using grapes from the Adelaide Hills and beyond.
‘The Basket Range is a beautiful corner of the Adelaide Hills, and it is the epicentre for the new wave of interesting, naturally made Australian wine. There’s a fabulous critical mass of winegrowers who are working and living in this beautiful bit of the hills.
A bright future for the Adelaide Hills?
While still a young wine region, the Adelaide Hills has achieved a heck of a lot in its brief history. It has been acclaimed around the world for many years for wonderful cool climate expressions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, but it's not a region that is resting on its laurels. As a wine centre it has played a vital part in the evolution of Australian wine and is itself constantly evolving. Emerging varieties, relatively new to the Australian fine wine scene, are finding a home in the Hills. And as it is home to cutting-edge winemakers pushing the boundaries and expanding the possibilities for fine Australian wine, the future truly is bright for fine wine in the Adelaide Hills.
I am sure I am not alone in being unable to wait to see what comes next…
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